Covering Controversy Like a Pro

Covering Controversy

Controversy demands attention. Just look in any direction of the media and you’ll find some. It may get redundant, obnoxious and annoying, but it’s there and covering it in the yearbook is an entirely different ballgame. It’s not always wrong to do so, but there are several key elements to keep in mind before submitting a controversial yearbook spread.

Ask yourself WHY you want to publish a controversial story.

If your answer consists of “to cause a stir,” absolutely do not move forward with the idea. It is never wise to create even more controversy with a controversial topic in the yearbook.

In turn, ask yourself why you would publish a controversial story.

Your staff might be looking to educate students, spark a conversation on topics that otherwise go undiscussed, raise awareness or give marginalized students a voice. Initially, these are all valid reasons to look further into printing the story.  

Publish what people are already talking about.

In other words, answer questions that may be ambiguous about a controversial topic. Explain what some readers may not understand, but make sure it makes for compelling content at the same time.

Understand that covering controversy can take time.

Be sure that you and other staff members are invested in the time it will take to cover a controversial topic the right way. Do plenty of research and analyze all angles. Depending on the focus of the controversial topic, start by taking a look at some websites that offer lots of information. For instance, Gladd.org for LGBT topics, SPRC.org for issues relating to suicide and Drugabuse.gov for insight into students and substance abuse.

Not all controversial stories have to be heavy and uncomfortable.

Controversial topics might include a tax levy in your school district, the decision to cut certain courses or kids committing crime in the community. However, even lighter controversial topics will require research to gather different opinions and represent both sides of the story.

Decide whether or not to use names.

No matter what the story is, see if names are already out there. In this case, it could be okay. But if subjects pertaining to the matter are still a mystery, it’s probably wise that your staff not be the ones to uncover those important details. (Again, don’t cause controversy with controversy.)

All in all, handle these kinds of topics delicately and professionally. List pros and cons, have many staff discussions and listen to criticism. Ask yourself how a story may be misconstrued and then work to fix any potential confusion.

When you feel pretty good about your story and the decision to include it in the yearbook, have many eyes within the school read it. You’ll get valuable feedback that will help make the story as neutral as possible when it does reach your mass audience. If you can’t avoid bias, don’t print it!

Has your staff run into a controversial story topic? How did they handle it and present it in the yearbook? Help other advisers and staffs who might be going through the same thing. Leave your insight in the comments section below!

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